Northern Highlights

See the highlights of the North West Highlands with this tour plan for a road trip that starts and ends in Inverness.

We guide you on a circular driving route that explores the great scenery, pretty fishing villages, rich history and legends of Scotland's North West Highlands.

This road trip covers the sections of the NC500 and features stopovers in Inverness, Skye, Gairloch and Ullapool, with a choice of day trips from each of these locations.

Allow a minimum of 5 days to drive this tour route.
The guide contains extra day trip suggestions for extending the tour to 10 days

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Northern Highlights

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Tour Stats :

Guide Updated - 22 December 2023

Core Route Mileage:

Approximately 410 miles / 660 Km

Tour Duration:

5 to 10 Days

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Tour Summary

  • Arrive in Inverness -

    This road trip around the North West Highlands starts and ends in Inverness.

    We provide a stopover guide for Inverness and the surrounding area that covers the tourist attractions, scenic spots, outdoor activities, restaurants and pubs.

    Inverness Day Trips – You may wish to spend several nights here so we give you a choice of day trip car tours from Inverness that cover:

    • A tour of the Moray Coast with its historical attractions and scenic coastline. This day trip features the highlights of Culloden, Clava Cairns, Cawdor Castle, and Elgin Cathedral.
    • A short tour of the Black Isle where you can visit a carefully preserved 18th-century village and embark on boat trips to see wild dolphins.
    • A drive around Loch Ness that features Urquhart Castle, the “Nessie” attractions, recommendations for a loch cruise and some quieter spots to escape the crowds.

    Stopover in Inverness Area

  • Inverness to Skye -

    You start today with a drive along the shores of Loch Ness where you have opportunities to take a cruise on the loch and / or a tour of Urquhart Castle. 

    From Loch Ness, you head into the wilderness of Wester Ross and the mountains of Kintail. The route passes the distinctive Eilean Donan castle on the way to the Skye Bridge, but we also include detour suggestions for exploring Iron Age Brochs or taking a photo stop in one of the prettiest villages in Scotland before crossing onto the Isle of Skye.

    Driving distance: ~115 miles

    Stopover on Skye or in the nearby Lochalsh area

  • Day Trips around Skye & Lochalsh -

    Skye is a large island with many of the places of interest located along dead end single track roads. As a result, you are limited in how much you can cover in a day and you need to schedule at least a 2 night stopover.

    • Explore Skye - We provide directions for a drive around Skye to see the island's famous scenic landmarks as well as Dunvegan Castle, Talisker Distillery, craft shops, tearooms, pubs and walks. More than enough ideas to fill 2 whole days on Skye. Driving distance: ~138 miles
    • Alternative Day Trip around Loch Alsh & Loch Hourn - Skye can be a very busy place so we also provide directions for a tour around this quieter area where you can take in one of our favourite viewpoints, soak up the atmosphere at mysterious Iron Age Brochs, or enjoy a cup of coffee in one of the remotest tearooms in Scotland. You can return to Skye via a tiny car ferry that operates from Easter – October.

    Stopover in Skye & Lochalsh area

  • Skye to Gairloch -

    Leave Skye to drive through some of the most magnificent scenery in Scotland. The route follows part of the “North Coast 500”, but we give you tips on great "off the path" places to explore that the NC500 misses.

    If you are a confident driver, you may want to follow the single track road over the Bealach na Ba pass and around the Applecross Peninsula. Don't worry, we also supply directions for a less challenging route without the sharp bends and steep drops.

    We recommend some great seafood restaurants along this route and have kept the driving time short so you can allow time for a special lunch.

    The drive ends in the Gairloch Area where we have suggested a variety of hikes and outdoor activities, including details of a local fisherman who will take you out on his boat to pull up lobster creels.

    Driving distance: ~76 miles / 102 miles

    Stopover in Gairloch Area

  • Gairloch to Ullapool -

    Inverewe Gardens are near Gairloch so you might wish to start your day with a gentle walk around these lovely gardens where sub-tropical plants thrive.

    The drive to Ullapool is only 55 miles, but there are lots of great beaches and viewpoints so you need to schedule time for photo stops and maybe a picnic too. Along the route, you can test your courage by crossing a 200 feet deep gorge on a bouncy little foot bridge.

    When you get to Ullapool, you can watch the fishing boat activity in the harbour and then sample the delicious fresh catch in an award-winning fish & chip shop. The village is a vibrant place with several good restaurants and range of pubs where you'll find live music and entertainment most nights of the week. We give you tips on where to find the best "craic".

    If you wish to explore the area in more depth, you can follow our directions for a back road drive to Lochinver that takes you past the distinctive peaks of Stac Pollaidh, Suilven and Canisp. These mountains emerge like rocky icebergs from the wild moorland of the Inverpolly Nature Reserve. Stac Pollaidh is a great little mountain to climb and you can do it in around 3 hours, but the final ascent to the true summit is a bit scary and too difficult a scramble for most to attempt.

    Driving distance: ~55 miles

    Stopover in Ullapool / Lochinver Area

  • Ullapool to Inverness -

    There are faster routes for the drive to Inverness, but we guide you away from the main roads to traverse the Highlands via a more northerly route through Strath Oykel.

    We supply 2 route options so you can choose between;

    • a longer drive that includes a visit to the impressively grand Dunrobin Castle and the option of a small detour to the pretty village of Dornoch.
    • or a shorter route that gives you time to explore a remote little church with a poignant souvenir of the people who suffered during the “Clearances”.

    The last leg of your Scottish Highlands tour takes you from Glenmorangie Distillery to Inverness with options to explore a photogenic lighthouse and a Victorian Spa village where you can still sample the mineral waters.

    Driving distance: ~100 miles / 117 miles

    Stopover in Inverness area

Tour Gallery


To help you book the best places to stay, we offer a guide to Recommended Accommodation along the route of this tour.

We personally visit all the accommodation featured in the guides and only select places where we would wish to stay ourselves. Read More...

When you "Checkout", you will have the option to buy the Accommodation Guide.

Preview Accommodation Guide

Car Hire - How to Save Money

When you buy a Secret Scotland Tour Itinerary you will receive a Discount Code that gets you a 10% reduction on the cost of Car Hire from Arnold Clark Rental.

Simply use the Secret Scotland code when you book via the Arnold Clark website and your car hire discount will automatically apply.


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